Hacking Reality

I’m not 100% sure that Rob Nelson is right about everything, but his book, Hacking Reality,  and its companion website, have had a profound effect on my life and those of others I know. I don’t know enough about quantum physics to judge that portion of the book. I am not even sure you can actually change your past in a way that also changes the past for others. But, for sure, his techniques can make it feel like you have changed the past, which, given its intangible nature, may be good enough. In my case, after I changed my past, I found written evidence, in my handwriting, in a contemporaneous document I’d just reviewed, that I’d never seen before and which supported the new scenario.

I also don’t know enough about Karma and reincarnation to score his scenario of pre-life planning, but it tickles me to imagine it’s true. He suggests that we go through one incarnation after another with the same souls; something of a repertory company. (A Buddhist friend tells me this concept is not alien to his faith tradition) Prior to your birth, the group meets and assigns roles. “I’ll sit this one out.” “I’ll be the father.” “I’ll be the lover that jilts him,” “I’ll meet him in college,” and so on.

Book Review:  Lucky Stars

This book had me at H. Claire Taylor. She is the remarkable author of the Jessica Christ books and the Kilhaven Police books. She is dramatically reinforcing my opinion that women write the best comic novels.

Although I could put the book down now and then to eat and answer nature’s call, I read this 251-page volume in a single day. I’ve said before I can’t put into words what it is about a novel that compels me to consume it rapidly. I assume it is a combination of great writing, great plotting and humor. This book has all that.

Admittedly, she comes across a bit Douglas Adams-like in the early going; you almost expect Ford Prefect or Zaphod Beeblebrox to round the next corner. On the other hand, how many ways can you depict an alien abduction? Of a Texas A&M graduate with a degree in Animal Husbandry? How often will all the guns that appear in the first act go off in the third (literally)? It’s as if it was plotted that way. Uproarious, clever, compelling and a hoot to read.

Dan Grobstein recommends: Turn Every Page

Dan Grobstein, a long-time friend and long-time contributor, checks in:

 Turn Every Page – The Adventures of Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb this Sunday at 92nd St Y followed by a discussion with Caro and the two Gottliebs. Opens in NY and LA 12/30. A fascinating look at the writing and editing process and the interactions between them.

Sometimes, I admit, I miss having an editor. Probably my loyal readers would agree.

Review: Lessons in Chemistry ******



The stars next to the title are not a typo. It’s a six-star rating. This novel is one of the best I have ever read. It is vivid, well written, and has one of the finest and most satisfying endings ever. I’m so glad I didn’t read the end first, as I often do with novels. Lessons in Chemistry describes the travails faced by intelligent women in American during the 50s and 60s, in academia and at work.

Every type of torture of the intelligent woman that is described in this book is familiar to me, as a second-wave feminist. I could (but won’t) name women I know upon whom each of these indignities were visited, at MIT and life. Proud to say I never committed the worst of these crimes against women, and seldom committed the least of them.

And yet, it’s not a polemic. It’s a clever, witty book that includes passionate love and steadfast adherence to principals. And a few out-loud laughs. And enough metaphors to float a section of English Lit.

When I finished, I instantly Googled the author, Bonnie Garmus, so I could read her other works. Imagine my surprise to find that this is her debut novel. I am hoping and praying for more from her.

Book Review: The Book of Lost Friends ******

That’s not a typo; it is six stars, because that’s how good I think this book is. I admit, I am at the absolute heart of the demographic for a book about a middle-school history teacher, having been one myself.

But I am also an avid reader, and rarely have I been so moved and fascinated by a work of fiction. I was crying, I was apprehensive. Pinpoint plotting, masterful dialog, and a style that is as engaging as anything I have ever seen. This dual story, of the teacher and a freed slave from a century earlier will enthrall you; in fact, it’s like the BBC: it informs, educates and entertains.

Book: American Dirt *****

As I enter my 65th year as a reader (I started young), I look back on hundreds of novels (most of them sci-fi and humor) and can’t think of one that was more moving and compelling than Jeanine Cummins' American Dirt, the story of a woman’s desperate attempt to reach the United States after she gets crosswise with a Mexican cartel. I was literally in tears by the time I read the epilogue. It is compelling, well-written and moving. I had difficulty putting it down. In a way, it reminds me of one of the earliest novels I read, Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, about conditions in the meat-packing business (of which he famously said, “I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach.”) Sinclair’s social problem novel resulted in regulation of the food business. Novels, by personalizing social problems, are, I suspect, more effective than treatises. Let’s hope that Mexican immigrants received better treatment from government and citizens alike as a result of this dramatic tale, just as Cummins intended.

Why Buddhism is True

Kevin Sullivan suggested Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment by journalist Robert Wright. It is an amazing and impressive work, using evolutionary biology to demonstrate the wisdom of the Buddha’s teachings about not-self and meditation. My favorite quotes:

“It is possible to argue that the primary evolutionary function of the self is to be the organ of impression management (rather than, as our folk psychology would have it, a decision-maker).”

“You may find it useful to think of meditation as a process that takes a conscious mind that gets to do a little nudging and turns it into something that can do a lot of nudging—maybe even turns it into something more like a president than a speaker of the House.”

Book Review: Into the Magic Shop *****

(this ties in with the lead item, Compassion Changed Me)

Doty MD, James R.: Into the Magic Shop: A Neurosurgeon's Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and the Secrets of the Heart

Once in a while, you read a book you know is life-changing―for others, if not for you. Two years ago, this book would have changed my life. After my spiritual journey of 2020, it’s just reinforcement for me, but it might be more for you.

I agree with the Dalai Lama, this is a remarkable and compelling book. It is similar (in a good way) to Dan Millman’s The Way Of The Peaceful Warrior, as it tells the story of a young man meeting an unlikely teacher and learning life-changing lessons―in this case about meditation and visualization. It should be given to every 12-year-old in the world. My grandson will get it when he’s ready to understand it, although I hope and pray he will already know about meditation and visualization by the time he is that old.

(I am shocked to find I never recommended Peaceful Warrior before: read the book or watch the movie.)

The two best quotes from the Magic Shop: “...when our heart changes, everything changes. And that change is not only in how we see the world, but in how the world sees us.”

And, “It's the same with wounds in our heart. We need to give them our attention so that they can heal. Otherwise, the wound continues to cause us pain. Sometimes for a very long time. We are all going to get hurt. That's just the way it is. But here's the trick about the things that hurt us and cause us pain―they also serve an amazing purpose... We grow through pain.”

Amen. I know every word of this paragraph is true because I discovered that you can heal a wounded heart―even after four decades―if you pay attention to the wound.

Doty also writes for the Huntington Post. I highly recommend On Grudges and Forgiveness: These studies show us the cost of not forgiving others can be physically taxing on us. I know this from personal experience as well.

And the most amazing thing  he discusses is the Heart Brain, noting the scientific fact that the  heart sends more messages to the brain than the brain does to the heart. Could the ancients have been right about this one? Check out some interesting heart intelligence science.

Review: Rodham *****

As my daughter Rae put it: “Hillary Clinton Fan Fiction.” A remarkable piece of counter-factual fiction, Rodham explores what would have become of Hillary Clinton’s life if she hadn’t married Bill. Curtis Sittenfeld does an impressive job, mixing fact with fiction and writing romantic scenes I found chilling in their accurate portrayal of what love is like. Bill is so tangential that the “reveal” of his status as a tech billionaire comes in a two-word aside (although he does run for president too―against Hillary. And loses). This is Hillary’s story, stem to stern. Well-written, well-plotted, well-conceived and well executed. The fictional timeline of the American presidency is worth the price of admission by itself. I won’t spoil the ending, except to say it brought me to tears and took my breath away.

There is, as I have previously noted, one clearly erroneous conversation in Rodham.